Clean the Air With Higher Gas Prices

By Warren Brown
Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dear President Obama:

You promised you would back California's rebellion against the Environmental Protection Agency, allowing federal consideration of that state's waiver application and that of its 13 confederates to make and enforce their own regulations controlling vehicle tailpipe emissions. You've kept your word.

But I humbly suggest that you and the Confederate States of California be wary of what you are setting in play. The EPA should take warning, too. After all, why should taxpayers spend money for a federal regulatory agency to come up with rules that can be trumped by state fiat?

It's a waste of dollars. Better to give the money to the California Air Resources Board, scrap the EPA and be done with it.

But, sir, there's a bigger issue. Granting California and its confederates their EPA waiver won't save one ounce of gasoline, which means it will do nothing to clean California's or the nation's air.

The waiver's intent will fail in those endeavors for the same reason the California Air Resources Board, the EPA and federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules have all failed.

To wit: Neither the proposed California waiver, nor the EPA's tailpipe regulations, nor the extant federal fuel economy rules speak to the issue -- the consumer.

We spend lots of time in this country talking about a consumer-driven economy -- praising it when consumers are spending like crazy, lamenting it when consumers are tapped out, working up economic stimulus plans to put money into consumers' pockets to get them spending again.

But when it comes to the business of drafting a commercially and environmentally effective national energy policy, we become infantile. We insist on solving a multi-part problem by working only one side of the equation -- the corporate-industrial side.

We feel good about ourselves when we make those recalcitrant car companies step up, clean up and give us better mileage. Yet, as a nation, we remain the single largest consumer of the not-very-free-world's oil.

Please check the numbers, sir. Gasoline consumption in the United States has soared since the implementation of CAFE rules in 1975. Vehicle miles traveled have zoomed ahead. And you can still get an asthma attack on a warm day in Reseda, Calif., breathing air thick with exhaust fumes.

That is what happens when you try to solve an adult problem with a childish approach, or, even worse, with politically inspired solutions designed to relieve American consumers of the burden of acting like adults.

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